I put off posting my thoughts on the 9th annual Winter Battle because I wanted to make sure my mind was calm and collected first. I also wanted to gather some information.
This one was busy, and it was a bunch of interesting factors that combined to make the experience unique. The action was fantastic. The competitors all fought well.
However, the tournament was not without its issues. Most issues I can overlook, as they do not drastically effect the outcome. This tournament had several factors that contributed to the results, and these must be mentioned here.
Mr. Kemp, the organizer of Winter Battle, does not sanction this event through the AAU, even though the sparring is done under AAU rules. Why he does not sanction is beyond my understanding and I will not speculate - because it is irrelevant with respect to what happened. What is relevant is that the AAU, seemingly on purpose, announced a judges meeting for the same day in a nearby city (Nashville, TN). This drew away from the judging and refereeing talent that normally would have been at the Winter Battle.
I smell an argument over money.
So with a makeshift judging crew in place, the tournament happened. Spirit Martial Arts - my kids' Dojang - was represented well. Most of their competitors won a medal. For the record, medals awarded were Gold, Silver, and Bronze. Bronze medals were awarded for 3rd and 4th place due to the double-elimination nature of the pairings.
My daughter entered. She was the youngest and smallest in her division. She fought with more heart than I had expected. She did not win a match, but received a Bronze because there were only four competitors in her division. Ironically, the winner of the division was the oldest and largest. He was 7, and none of the rest of us can figure out to this day how he was pulled from the 6 & 7 division and entered into the 5 & under division. My daughter's best Taekwondo friend from SMA, Nicole, was in the same division and won 3rd place.
Cali and Nicole got to match against each other. It was the best match of the division.. and not just because I am biased. Cali worked herself into the lead, and maintained the lead halfway through the second period. Nicole roared back, and tied the match with only seconds to go. Overtime was needed, and Nicole scored on an exchange where Cali landed the first kick, but it was obscured from the judges' vision (we have it on film). Nevertheless, Nicole was awarded the point she scored and named victor. The girls loved getting to compete against each other of all people.
In the kids' divisions from ages 7-10, the average score for novice matches (white - yellow - orange belts) was 11-7.
In Intermediate matches (blue - green - purple belts), the average score was 14-11.
In advanced matches (brown - red - black belts), the average score was less than 2-1 when the 3-point head kicks are disregarded.
In the advanced division, head kicks scored 3 points this year compared to two points in years prior and in the novice and intermediate divisions. Trust me when I say, these players did not have a huge jump in defense, so much as there was something fishy on offense.
The main difference was the "e-hogu" used. An electronic sensor pad is on the hogu (torso pads). The players wear special socks that are hypothetically designed to activate the sensors. This data was supposedly carried to a computer nearby to register points scored to the body. Head-kicks were still determined by the three observing judges.
We should have known something was up when the hogus all had trouble registering kicks. Prior to each match, the competitors were to give a free kick to one another so the officials could determine that the hogus were operating correctly. Never did the hogus work from the start. Much tweaking was needed. When they finally would start working, the only way to get them to register a kick was for a full-grown man to strike the child full force in the hogu - sending the child stumbling back 6-10 feet! While this does not harm the child due to the nature of the way the hogu is constructed, I would challenge anyone to find an 8-year-old child who can repeatedly kick that hard.
In my son's division, in a total of 8 matches, there were a total of 11 body shots scored. My son has done that by himself in previous tournaments.
My son lost his first match by a score of 12-1. His opponent landed 4 head kicks. I was surprised that my son only scored one body kick! I watched intently at a few more matches, and immediately noticed the trend. My son's coach was trying to pull double-duty, so I told her to coach the other child, and I'd coach my son.
"Cael, body kicks are just not scoring. Use body kicks to set up your head kicks. Two head kicks scored will win you this match. Keep your hands up high so they do not score a head kick. Don't worry about his body kicks, they will not score - lure him in with free body kicks and kick him in the helmet." Was my advice.
Cael did just that. He won, 12-1. A complete turn around.
By that time, most of the rest of the coaches had figured out the same idea. My son went on to place 3rd in his division.
As you can see, I have no sour grapes on the e-hogu. However, I did a Google search. These things are terrible! And everybody knows it! They are calibrated to a 150-pound man. What's more, the traditional Taekwondo defintion of a scoring kick was one that delivered a "trembling blow." These only register the "slap" type kicks.
I decided, and my son agreed, that we would not enter him into any further tournaments that require the e-hogu.
I shall also call for a boycott of any and all companies selling these devices until they can get their collective acts together. That said, I've heard that Adidas makes a good one. Too bad it is over $600 per hogu (a regular hogu is $40-$60). That is another reason to avoid these things. The cost. A regular set of sparring equipment can be had for under $100. The socks alone to this crazy setup are $65+++.